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Fire destroys Colfax area Lutheran church; seaplane crash claims Hayward man; both sides await Walker's budget plans, more state briefs

MENOMONIE -- A Saturday night fire of unknown origin destroyed the 99-year old St. John's Lutheran Church, a Wisconsin Evangelical Synod parish with about 60 members.

Firefighters from Colfax got the call from a passerby that flames were visible at the Dunn County church, about 10 miles north in the town of Grant, the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reported Monday.

The church, which was unoccupied at the time, was a total loss.

The congregation would have celebrated the church's 100th anniversary next year. The newspaper reported they just finished a project to expand the entryway and install a lift for handicap accessibility.

Pastor John Toppe also serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Ridgeland, where members of the Colfax church worshipped on Sunday.

Colfax firefighters received water- and manpower assistance Boyceville, Ridgeland, Elk Mound, Sand Creek, Menomonie and Prairie Farm fire departments.

The fire remains under investigation by the Dunn County Sheriff's Department.

Hayward man -- flight instructor -- killed in FL seaplane crash

SARASOTA, Fla. --A flight instructor from northwest Wisconsin was killed during the weekend when a seaplane he was piloting crashed near an airport in Sarasota Florida.

Witnesses said 70-year-old John Ardoyno of Hayward did not gain enough altitude when his craft took off from the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. Officials said the single-engine plane dipped in the air, and abruptly crashed in a field on the New College campus - about 100 yards from a campus building.

No one on the ground was hurt. Ardoyno's passenger, William Jackson, 63, of Ann Arbor, Mich. was on fire when he escaped the aircraft. He was flown to a hospital in Tampa where he was in critical condition at last word. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

Ardoyno is a member of the International Seawind Pilots Association, and the group lists him as a flight instructor.

In September, Ardoyno made an emergency landing in a lagoon, when another seaplane lost its oil pressure and engine power. His passenger owned that craft, and no one was hurt.

Businesses will pay more if Walker rejects Badger Care expansion, says advocate

MADISON -- A health care advocate says Wisconsin businesses would pay $120 million more in federal taxes if Gov. Scott Walker says no to taking federal funds to expand Badger-Care. Robert Kraig of Citizen Action says Wisconsin businesses would get a large tax hike if the state turns down federal money to expand Medicaid, which Badger-Care falls under.

The Obama health reform law requires companies with more than 50 employees to pay a tax penalty for every worker who gets care under an insurance exchange. But advocates say the penalty would not apply to employees who end up in Badger-Care, a state Medicaid program for the working poor.

Walker is expected to announce next month whether the state should accept $12 billion-dollars over the next decade to help expand Medicaid.

The decision is expected to be included in the massive state budget that Walker will submit to the Legislature.

State Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith recently told Congress that Medicaid needs major reforms to stay viable. Without them, Smith says states cannot expand their programs - and they'd pay more than what the Obama package would save.

Senator wants to waive school spending cap for safety improvements

MADISON -- A Wisconsin senator wants to let public schools exceed their state-mandated taxing limits to improve their safety, but the Assembly leader says he won't go along with the idea.

Democrats agreed in 2009 to let schools exceed their revenue limits by a total of $86 million-dollars to pay for safety measures but Gov. Scott Walker dropped the exemption in the current state budget. Senate Democrat John Lehman of Racine wants to bring it back in the wake of the Connecticut school massacre.

Senate Education Committee chairman Luther Olson, a Republican from Ripon, said he would consider bringing the revenue exemption back. He said people are interested in making their own schools safer, in the wake of what happened in Newtown.

But Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says schools already have enough money to improve their safety without sacrificing the quality of their education and he says the tax increases caused by the cap exemptions are not necessary.

Dan Rossmiller of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards said he was not aware of any schools scrapping plans to add safety measures after the revenue exemption was cut out. He said the group would discuss the matter when it meets later this month.

New leader expected for Accountability Board

MADISON -- Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board is expected to choose a new chairman Monday.

The six retired judges on the panel will take part in a tele-conference, in which new officers will be picked in a random drawing.

Current chairman David Deininger pulled his own name out of a glass bowl a year ago. Board director Kevin Kennedy will conduct the drawing this time.

Also, the Board is expected to certify five statewide candidates for the spring ballot - Vince Megna, Ed Fallone, and incumbent Pat Roggensack for State Supreme Court - and Don Pridemore and incumbent Tony Evers for state school superintendent.

Coldest days of winter experienced

Wisconsinites woke up Monday to one of the coldest mornings of what's been a very mild winter.

Temperatures were in the single digits and teens at five this morning and Sparta was the southern-most location where the mercury hit zero. Winds were light, but wind-chill factors are still below zero in nearly all of Wisconsin.

Antigo had the coldest wind-chill at 5 a.m. at 14-below. A low pressure system brought light snow and freezing rain to much of Wisconsin during the weekend. Edgerton in Rock County had 1.7 inches of snow-and-sleet Sunday morning. Waukesha County had more than two dozen traffic crashes and spin-outs early Sunday, caused by the freezing rain but it all cleared out by evening, and forecasters say it will be dry for most of the week.

There's a chance of isolated flurries Monday, and maybe some snow showers on Wednesday and Friday. It will stay in the teens Monday except along Lake Michigan, where it will be a few degrees warmer.

A warming trend is expected throughout the week - and much of the state could be back above freezing by Wednesday.

RNC won't force Wisconsin to change electoral systems

The head of the Republican National Committee says his group will not try to make Wisconsin and other battleground states change their electoral systems for choosing the president but Reince Priebus says he personally would like to see Wisconsin do it as well as other states whose legislatures are run by Republicans but whose presidential votes to go Democrats.

Last month, the National Journal said senior Republicans in Washington were pressing to get Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan to drop their winner-take-all systems, and approve something which would give the GOP more electoral votes and a better chance to win the presidency.

No Wisconsin lawmaker has proposed this in the new session, but GOP Gov. Scott Walker says he's intrigued by the idea.

All states but Nebraska and Maine currently give all their electoral votes to the winner of the statewide popular vote. Instead, Republicans are pushing to have the winner in each congressional district would get an electoral vote, and the statewide winner to get two.

Had it been in effect last year, both President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney each would have gotten five electoral votes in Wisconsin - even though the Democrat Obama won the statewide popular vote by 7 percent.

Assembly Democrat Jon Richards of Milwaukee says Republicans are only trying to change the rules because they lost and Assembly Democrat Fred Kessler of Milwaukee says Wisconsin would no longer be a competitive state, except in a couple of House districts. Kessler says White House candidates would make fewer appearances here and run fewer ads.

Pewaukee school to host benefit for Connecticut school shooting

PEWAUKEE -- Students and teachers in Pewaukee are putting on a rock concert this month to benefit the survivors of the Connecticut school shooting victims.

The event, called "Rock to Remember," is set for 2 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 27th at Pewaukee High School.

Teacher Mike Callies, who's organizing the concert, says local performers are donating their talents. Student musicians will also be on the program. Various types of rock and acoustic songs will be performed, geared toward those 14 and older.

Proceeds will go to the Newtown Memorial Fund which is helping families in Connecticut meet immediate needs. It's also creating a scholarship fund for the victims' classmates, and future Newtown students.

Feds may help Wisconsin force criminal suspects give DNA samples

Wisconsin Republicans who want to make criminal suspects give their DNA to the police when they're arrested might get some help from the federal government.

President Obama signed a bill last week that gives $10 million to states that begin collecting DNA upon arrest. Police could add those samples to a database which helps investigators track down criminal suspects.

It's not known when states can apply or how much a state like Wisconsin could get, but Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen say any federal money could help the state off-set the price tag for the measure.

Right now, the state collects DNA from convicted felons and sex offenders and the new proposal would collect an extra $68,000 DNA samples each year at a cost of $7.2 million for the first two years.

Van Hollen has made waves by proposing that the new samples be funded by taking Justice Assistance grants away from things like gang-prevention efforts, school programs, and public defenders.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes collecting DNA samples from anyone who's not convicted, says the new federal grants would only cover a little of the state's expenses.

Brown County will honor Donald Driver

GREEN BAY -- The Brown County Board plans to honor Green Bay Packers' receiver Donald Driver this week for his contributions to the community.

Driver, 37, is the team's all-time leading receiver but he's not expected to return to the Packers after 14 seasons and county supervisor Bernie Erickson says he wants to honor Driver before he leaves town.

The board plans to recognize him for creating a foundation that deals with homelessness and education.

Driver has also hosted an annual charity softball game with his Packer teammates. Erickson says Driver has given both his talents and his money to the community and now is a great chance to honor him.

County officials say the board meeting is on Driver's schedule, but it's subject to change. Green Bay has been Driver's only NFL team since he was drafted in 1999.

He says still he wants to play until he's 40 but he may also retire as a pure Packer. He hasn't made that decision yet.

Former UW-M student among first subject to longer kiddie porn sentencing law

MADISON -- A former U-W Madison doctoral student will spend at least three years in prison under a new state law passed in the last session that toughened penalties for possessing child pornography.

A mandatory three-year prison term for all child porn cases has been on the books since April and Jay Babcock, 31, of Madison will become the first Dane County resident to be sentenced under the new law Monday. Three men in other counties have also received the mandatory prison time.

Assembly Republican Mark Honadel of South Milwaukee proposed the measure, and it got support from both parties. He said judges were letting too many child porn convicts stay out of prison. Babcock was charged last June with 10 counts of felony child porn possession. He pleaded guilty to four counts, and the other six were dropped in a plea deal.

Former Antigo coach-principal heading to drug trial

ANTIGO -- A trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday for a former Antigo football coach and elementary principal charged with dealing marijuana.

John Lund, 48, is charged with seven felony counts of manufacturing and selling pot, and maintaining a drug trafficking place. A jury is expected to be picked in Langlade County Circuit Court in Antigo, and Lund's trial is scheduled to run for four days before Judge Fred Kawalski.

Lund is accused of running the school portion of a drug ring which sold marijuana to teachers in Antigo and Merrill. That part of it was exposed in late 2011, and Lund resigned soon after he was charged last January.

Since then, authorities have said the school cases were just part of a drug ring that stretched as far south as Wausau.

John Hunter of Antigo was charged five months ago with 50 felony counts of selling both cocaine and marijuana. He has pleaded innocent, and the status of his case will be reviewed on Feb. 4th.

As of September, 15 people have been charged - mostly teachers accused of using marijuana sold to them by former assistant football coach Scot Peterson. He was sentenced to six months in jail for his role.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau