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New legislative session begins today -- Walker predicts less turbulence; Tech college teachers earn more than UW instructors; more briefs

A festive atmosphere is planned at the State Capitol today as Wisconsin legislators begin their new session.

They'll take their oaths of office at 2 p.m. and will attend separate receptions for each house.

Republicans have large enough majorities in both houses to pass anything they want - just like they did in the last session until moderate Senator Dale Schultz stopped the hardline conservatives from passing a mining bill with reduced environmental protections.

Mining will be the first major issue to be taken up in the new session, and there have been talks behind the scenes to create an incentive package for mining firms that's more acceptable to both parties.

Incoming Assembly Speaker Robin Vos promises to at least listen to Democrats more closely, but Minority Leader Peter Barca says he'll wait and see. He says Republicans have talked about bipartisanship in the past and then acted on socially extreme issues. But Governor Scott Walker has told his GOP majority to stay away from hot-button topics like right to work and measures that could give Republicans a further advantage at the ballot box like redistricting did in November.

Instead, Walker wants lawmakers to focus on creating jobs, training workers, mining, tax cuts and reforming education.

Walker is gearing up for a reelection bid next year, and incoming Senate Democratic leader Chris Larson says the governor wants to portray himself to the voters as being more moderate. Republicans have an 18-15 majority in the Senate and a 59-39 edge in the Assembly.


Walker plans more moderate agenda, predicts less turbulence

Wisconsin legislators will begin their new session today, and Gov. Scott Walker says he'll have them approve a more moderate agenda than in the last two years.

Walker told the Wisconsin State Journal that he'll focus on the state budget and job creation.

He predicts less turbulence in the second half of his term than in the first half. Walker said none of his plans for the new session will prompt massive protests like those which rocked the Capitol when he virtually ended collective bargaining for most public union employees.

Walker said his budget priorities include incentives to create jobs, worker training, tax cuts, more education reforms and new and improved transportation projects.

Former Democratic lawmaker Mordecai Lee, who's now a professor at UW-Milwaukee, said Walker has become much more careful politically after surviving last year's recall effort.

Walker's up for re-election next year, and pollster Charles Franklin says the governor will need to maintain his position as a national conservative leader while not provoking a backlash among Wisconsin voters.


Study says tech college teachers earn more than UW instructors

Teachers at Wisconsin's technical colleges were paid more last year than University of Wisconsin System instructors, according to a review of public employee salaries by Gannett Wisconsin Media, which has 10 daily newspapers around the state.

Fulltime instructors at the 16 tech schools averaged $90,000 last year. That includes $12,000 in "overages," which involve additional teaching assignments. University professors, meanwhile, averaged $86,000 last year, but only $1,400 was for overages.

Deb Seline, an instructor at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, made over $200,000 last year, including $121,000 in overages. She said she worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week and most of it was grading papers. Seline said she did it because she had concerns about the economy, and it was an offer she took advantage of.

Terry Fleischman of Fox Valley Tech doubled his $88,000 salary. Officials said he took extra teaching assignments, ran a major development project and covered for an instructor on medical leave.

According to Gannett, some observers believe that overages save money for schools because they don't have to hire extra people. But others say the compensation can get out of line and it limits diversity among staff members.


Golden Guernsey dairy closes suddenly

Hundreds of schools in southeast Wisconsin have to find a new milk supplier after the Golden Guernsey dairy plant in Waukesha suddenly closed during the weekend.

Media reports said workers were told Friday night not to show up for work Saturday.

A state workforce development spokesman said he was not aware of the closing. Wisconsin's Plant Closing Law requires a 60-day notice for either plant closings or layoffs that involve 50 or more employees unless there are emergency circumstances.

Golden Guernsey President Brad Parks told WTMJ TV in Milwaukee that the matter was an "ongoing process," and he would not confirm a report that 112 people at the Waukesha plant lost their jobs.

Open Gate Capital of Los Angeles bought the Waukesha plant early last year from Dean Foods. The purchase was designed to settle anti-trust concerns raised by the federal government, due to Dean's other dairy operations in Wisconsin.

Lynn Hiemke, the head of Mapleton Dairy Haulers of Oconomowoc, bought milk from the Waukesha plant for 360 Wisconsin schools. WTMJ said Mapleton has arranged for a new supplier for now, and he's trying to find something more permanent.

Cindy Fassbender of the Slinger schools was told Sunday she'd only get one more shipment. She is expecting to run out of milk Wednesday.


Head-on collision on Mississippi bridge claims one life

A bridge over the Mississippi River is open this morning after a head-on crash late Sunday that killed one person and injured four others.

The collision happened about 4:30 p.m. on the Hwy. 18 Marquette-Joliet Bridge between Prairie du Chien and Iowa.

The Wisconsin State Patrol said the driver of a car was killed after colliding head-on with a van that carried four people. The car driver was a 73-year-old woman from McGregor, Iowa.

Three people in the van were taken to a Prairie du Chien hospital with minor injuries, and a 43-year-old Prairie du Chien woman was flown to a La Crosse hospital with life-threatening injuries.

The bridge was closed for several hours for cleanup and investigation. The victims' names were not immediately released.


State has third largest population of Hmong

Wisconsin has almost 50,000 Hmong residents, the third-largest population in the country behind Minnesota and California.

That's according to a review of 2010 Census figures by the Hmong Studies Journal of St. Paul.

Wisconsin was among the first places where refugees started settling in the late 1970's after many served alongside U.S. forces in Vietnam. Today, the Wisconsin Hmong has its greatest numbers in Wausau, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Appleton, Green Bay, Sheboygan, Madison and Milwaukee.

Nationally, there were over 260,000 Hmong-Americans in 2010, and over half are now American-born.

Mark Pfeifer, the editor of the Hmong Studies Journal, said Hmong residents have made considerable advancements over the last 30 years in their educational, social and economic plight.

But they still face unique challenges that include poverty. The national Hmong poverty rate in 2010 was 25%, compared to 11% for Americans as a whole.


Farmers waiting to see which federal programs have been extended

Wisconsin farmers are still waiting to see exactly what federal programs will be available after some provisions of the previous Farm Bill were extended.

Sue Hunter of the Farm Service Agency said that as of Friday, local FSA offices were not notified about the programs that have been extended or when signups can take place. As a result, they won't be meeting with farmers on the subject until they get official details.

Hunter said farmers should make sure their local Farm Service Agency has their email addresses plus the most current information on their farm operations.

Congress extended parts of the 2008 Farm Bill for another year as part of the negotiations that kept the federal government from falling over the fiscal cliff.

Among other things, the Milk Income Loss Contract program - which provides federal supports to dairy farmers when market prices fall below certain levels - will continue as it's been.

A new dairy insurance program had been endorsed last year as part of a new Farm Bill that never got passed.


Woman dies helping others escape fire

People who escape an apartment fire in New Holstein say the 42 year old woman killed was a hero for helping them get clear.

The fire in downtown New Holstein was reported at about 6:45 a.m. Friday morning. Four people managed to get out, but they had to seek treatment at a hospital.

New Holstein police say Nicole Masucci died. Her neighbors say that happened because Masucci was making sure they got out.

Fire crews don't know what started the fire, but they said it began in a kitchen area on the lower level. The State Fire Marshal's office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are investigating.

The four residents taken to the hospital were treated and released.


Judge allows using dogs to hunt bears

A judge ruled Wisconsin bear hunters can use dogs but put restrictions on training those dogs out of season.

The decision goes back to a lawsuit filed by a group of humane societies last summer against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

State lawmakers established Wisconsin's first organized wolf hunt last session. The humane societies filed their suit last August, arguing the lack of restrictions on hunting use and training of dogs could lead to dog-wolf fights in the woods year around, forcing the societies to care for injured animals and putting wolf watchers in dangerous situations.


Farmer dies after straw collapses on him

A man who died after being buried underneath straw at an eastern Wisconsin dairy farm has been identified as Wallace Fhlug, 47, of Chilton.

Calumet County authorities said Fhlug was apparently moving straw when it collapsed on top of him.

Others at the farm started looking for him when they saw an unmanned tractor which was still running. Fhlug's body was found Friday afternoon in a barn where the hay was stored.

It was not immediately known how long he had been buried.


Fire claims about 120 cattle

Fire officials in Manitowoc County are investigating a blaze that killed about 120 head of cattle.

Valders Fire Chief Dan Esser said a dairy barn might have been burning for two hours or more before firefighters were called early Friday.

Up to 15 cows died in the barn. The rest managed to escape, but they had to be euthanized because they suffered smoke inhalation.

The barn had partially collapsed by the time firefighters arrived. Esser said the flames and strong winds made it hard to get the cattle out.

He said he wasn't sure how stable the barn was and he did not want to risk injuries to the firefighters. None of them were hurt.

Units from four fire departments responded.


Alleged teen shoplifter dies after customers restrain him

The case of a high school student who was restrained for allegedly trying to shoplift alcohol at a Milwaukee-area convenience store because even more complicated by his death.

Sixteen year old Corey Stingley died last weekend. Now, charges could be filed against the three customers at VJ's Food Mart who restrained him Stingley Dec. 14.

Stingley was a running back on the football team at Nathan Hale High School last season. He also ran track.

West Allis police responded to the call at about 4 p.m. Dec. 14, arriving to find Stingley being held down. Officially put him in handcuffs at first but removed the cuffs and began CPR when they realized he wasn't breathing.

Stingley was on life support at Froedtert Hospital until he died a week ago Saturday. The funeral was held Saturday at Parklawn Assembly of God Church in Milwaukee.