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Primaries lead up to fight for control of state Senate; Deputy rescues two girls after kayaking accident; 15 more state news items

Wisconsin primary voters will choose nominees today for contests in November that could let Democrats regain control of the state Senate.

Primaries will be held in four open Senate districts where Republican incumbents are stepping down.

The one attracting the most buzz is the southwest Wisconsin seat given up by longtime Republican Dale Schultz of Richland Center. That's where two Democrats are running for a chance to defeat conservative Representative Howard Marklein in November, in a district that's considered to be moderate.

Democrats would have to take away two GOP seats to take back control of the Senate.

In Racine, former GOP senator Van Wanggaard hopes to win his seat back with victories today and in November.

Another hot contest is in the Janesville area where Senate Democrat Tim Cullen is stepping down. Former Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan faces Assembly Democrat Janis Ringhand for a spot on the November ballot.

Republicans expect to keep the majority in the Assembly where they have an ample 60-39 majority. Ten Assembly primaries are being held in districts where only one party has candidates. Those winners will most likely be elected in November. Five Republican and five Democratic primary fields have no opposing party candidates awaiting them in November.



Deputy rescues two girls after kayaking accident

A northwest Wisconsin sheriff's deputy saved a pair of 12-year-old girls whose kayaks overturned on the Minong Flowage in Douglas County.

Media reports said Deputy Steve Olson was patrolling the area Saturday when he saw something afloat in a large bay. His binoculars helped him see two kayaks upside down and two heads bobbing.

Olson raced to the girls on his jet-ski watercraft. He found their heads barely out of the water, and neither wearing a lifejacket.

He took them about four miles to shore on his watercraft. They were tired and scared but otherwise okay. Both girls are from Bruce in Rusk County.



Rags, chemical blamed for Green Bay school fire

Officials now say spontaneous combustion caused last Friday's fire that heavily damaged Green Bay Preble High School.

Metro fire Lt. Nick Craig said school employees improperly disposed of rags that were used to clean up a chemical after the gym floor was resurfaced. The chemical combusted with the cotton rags and started a plastic garbage can on fire.

Craig said there was no intruder, and the fire set off motion detectors.

Fire officials stopped short of ruling the fire accidental although Green Bay school Facilities Director Mike Stangel said there was no way the rags were improperly disposed of on purpose.

Preble High School Principal Natasha Rowell confirms that the damage was worse than first thought, and the building won't be ready for the start of fall classes on Sept. 2.

Rowell said school staffers are looking at a ways to make up for lost school and instructional time. Nothing's been formalized yet.

A crew of more than 100 people is cleaning up the damage.

J. Murphy of Paul Davis National said the entire school would have to be cleaned, since smoke soot spread through the building. Crews will start working throughout the night tomorrow, and it could raise the numbers of cleanup people to over 400.

--Jeff Flynt, WTAQ, Green Bay


Groom spends wedding night behind bars

A groom in Manitowoc spent his wedding night in jail for throwing a full mug of beer during an argument at a tavern.

Police said the 28-year-old man from Two Rivers was celebrating his wedding on Saturday night and was still wearing his tuxedo when he got into a loud spat at a bar.

Officers said the groom threw a beer mug against the wall and almost hit a woman in the head. He was said to be abusive and profane.

The bar owner called police, but the groom left before officers got there. They later found the groom, the bride and others in a vehicle about 1 a.m. Sunday.

The groom was booked in jail for violating a previous probation. He faces a possible charge of disorderly conduct.



Milwaukee woman gets prison term for tax, food stamp and mail fraud

A suburban Milwaukee woman has been sentenced to 30 months in a federal prison after she admitted committed tax, food stamp and mail fraud.

Tiffiny Harden, 30, of Menomonee Falls was also ordered to pay $120,000 in restitution to the IRS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Prosecutors said Harden received over $120,000 in federal income tax refunds in 2012 by filing 35 false tax returns and claiming credits and other tax breaks in the names of other people. Some victims said Harden offered to fill out their returns., but after they gave their personal information, they never heard back from her.

Authorities said she also applied for food stamps with fraudulent mailings.


Authorities say driver in double-fatality rollover had no license

A 16-year-old girl is under electronic monitoring with orders not to drive after she appeared in juvenile court for last Friday's SUV crash near Wausau that killed two girls.

Authorities said the driver did not have a license when the vehicle rolled over, killing 12-year-old Reighlee Stevenson of Oshkosh and 12-year-old Deserae Landowski of Wausau. Eight others were injured.

Marathon County prosecutors were given until tomorrow afternoon to file charges. Circuit Judge Greg Huber withdrew from the case, saying he knows one of the victims' grandparents.

For now, the driver's mother will stay home for two weeks to watch her during her confinement. Other relatives also plan to help.

Several hundred people attended a candlelight vigil in downtown Wausau last night to remember the crash victims. Deserae's mother, Kristen Landowski, said she was not expecting so much support from the Wausau community and it shows that her daughter was loved and would not be forgotten. Deserae's father, Manuel Lopez, called it a “nice feeling.”

The ten young people were heading to a county park for swimming and a picnic when their SUV rolled over about 12 miles northeast of Wausau.

--Raymond Neupert and Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Farm Technology Days opens in Portage County

Wisconsin's largest annual farm show begins today in Portage County. Close to 80,000 people are expected for Wisconsin Farm Technology Days just east of Plover at the Blue Top and Feltz Family farms.

The three-day show is being held a month later than normal to allow for unique field demonstrations. The show features the latest in farm equipment and technology plus numerous demonstrations and around 600 exhibitors in a tent city.

Pete Zakrzewski of Blue Top said it took three years for the two farms ready. He said crop rotation was the most important thing so visitors would not have to ride buses to see the featured potato and vegetable operations.

Harvest and tillage demonstrations will take place for potatoes, sweet corn, carrots, snap-beans, cabbage and peas.

Farm Technology Days highlights different types of farming operations at different locations each year. Last year's show took place near Dallas in Barron County. It will be in Dane County next year and in Walworth County in 2016.

--Bob Meyer, Brownfield Ag News Service, and Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Conference of Mayors looks at income disparity

All but a handful of Midwest metro areas are mostly rich or mostly poor, according to a new study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Mayors which looked at income disparity within the nation's 357 metros.

Milwaukee, Wausau, Fond du Lac and Racine were among those having equal balances of high and low income households. That means around a third of families make more than $75,000 a year, another third makes less than $35,000, and the rest are in the middle.

The report also said Fond du Lac had the nation's second highest percentage of middle-income households. Forty-two percent of them took in $35,000 to $75,000 a year.

The major finding of the report was that wage levels have yet to recover from the recession even though the economy regained the jobs that were lost.

The Conference of Mayors said the average wage of jobs lost in the recession was $61,000 a year while jobs through June of this year average $47,000 or 23% less.

The study said the nation's total income is $93 billion less than it was before the recession hit in 2008.


Deputy shoots man in traffic stop incident

Plover's police chief said one of his officers acted appropriately when he shot and wounded a knife-wielding suspect during a traffic stop.

According to Chief Dwayne Wierzba, Patrolman Andrew Hopfensperger stopped Lieberman, 33, of Manawa for driving erratically last Friday night.

After Lieberman stopped, he allegedly rushed out of his vehicle and went toward the officer with a knife. Wierzba said Hopfensperger used what he called “appropriate force to defend himself and stop the threat.”

The chief's statement said Lieberman was hospitalized with multiple gunshot wounds although it has not been disclosed how many shots were fired. The suspect's condition has not been disclosed, either.

Hopfensperger is on administrative leave, while the state Department of Justice and Portage County sheriff's deputies investigate.

--Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau


Manitowoc County begins building larger domestic abuse shelter

Construction begins Friday on a new domestic violence shelter for Manitowoc County.

The Wisconsin Domestic Violence Center says its current 19-bed facility is often over capacity and its living rooms and library often have to be used as bedrooms.

The Manitowoc shelter had its largest average capacity on record in 2013.

Center officials say the new shelter will have more bed space plus more room for various services and meetings.

About $1.8 million has been raised for the project, and another $100,000 is still being sought. The new center is expected to be ready in about nine months.


Work delayed on dorms in Whitewater, Eau Claire

Two new college dormitories that were approved by the State Building Commission are being delayed.

Officials at UW-Whitewater and UW-Eau Claire say they need the new facilities and were hoping they'd be open by the fall 2016.

However, the state Department of Administration says it's dealing with a cash flow based on $250 million in cuts to the building program in the current state budget. Officials note that the projects are still in the hopper, and only the Legislature can remove them.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says the delay could create new discussion of whether more campus housing facilities should be funded by private gifts through university foundations.

UW campuses at Green Bay, Milwaukee and Platteville have all found it faster and more cost efficient to build dorms that way because they can be self-supporting. Right now, student fees cover the building and maintenance of dorms while the state picks up the borrowing costs.

State Assembly Colleges Committee Chairman Steve Nass of Whitewater is concerned about rising student fees. His spokesman Mike Mikalsen said the money students have saved by recent tuition freezes is being "eaten up" through higher surcharges and student fees.


Lack of rain worries farmers

Lots of Wisconsinites enjoyed last week's dry weather -- but not farmers.

Officials say 43% of the topsoil on Wisconsin farm fields is short to very short of moisture. That's up from 33% the week before. Pastures are starting to feel it with 13% rated poor to very poor.

The state's corn crop is still progressing nicely as maturity rates continue to improve, but they're still below the five-year averages. All told, 69% of the Wisconsin corn is in good to excellent shape along with 70% of the soybeans. The winter wheat harvest is well ahead of normal, but the oats-for-grain harvest is close to 20% behind schedule.

Some parts of central Wisconsin had heavy downpours last evening. Plover had just over two inches of rain. Scattered showers are possible this morning in eastern Wisconsin, but after that, there's only a slight chance of rain and sprinkles statewide at least through Saturday.


Memorial service set for soldier who died 70 years ago

A memorial service will be held tomorrow near Green Bay for a World War II soldier whose remains came home almost 70 years after he died.

Air Force Staff Sgt. David Kittredge of Oneida was a radio operator whose B-26 bomber was shot down in 1945 over Germany. Human remains from the crash were found there in 2012, and an Armed Forces lab identified Kittredge through DNA.

His relatives accepted his cremated remains yesterday. They were taken to Nicolet Memorial Gardens at New Franken where a service is planned tomorrow with full military honors.


Low voter turnout predicted today

It's primary election day in Wisconsin, but the statewide contests have not generated much excitement and officials predict a 15% voter turnout.

The biggest item on the ballot is a three-way Democratic primary for the open attorney general's post. Lawmaker Jon Richards and prosecutors Susan Happ and Ismael Ozanne are running for a spot on the November ballot against Republican prosecutor Brad Schimel.

The most hotly contested primary has been for the open U.S. House seat in eastern Wisconsin where four Republicans hope to replace retiring GOP incumbent Tom Petri. State lawmakers Glenn Grothman, Duey Strobel and Joe Leibham are running, along with retired technical college instructor Tom Denow.

For governor, Democrat Mary Burke faces long-shot opposition from Assembly Democrat Brett Hulsey although Burke has ignored Hulsey and focused instead on trying to beat Republican Scott Walker in November.

State Senate Democrat John Lehman and activist Mary Jo Walters are running for their party's lieutenant governor nomination.

There are also GOP primaries for state treasurer and secretary of state, but there's been little interest after lawmakers have stripped both jobs of virtually all their duties.

There are also numerous primaries for state Legislature and county offices. All polls opened at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.


Wisconsin-developed process uses DNA to screen for colon cancer

A Madison company has won federal approval for the first colon cancer screening test that uses a patient's DNA to spot deadly growths and tumors.

The Food and Drug Administration gave its approval yesterday to the Cologuard test developed by the firm of Exact Sciences. It detects irregular mutations in stool samples that can show early signs of cancer. Patients who test positive for the mutations are encouraged to confirm the results with colonoscopies.

For years, doctors have used stool tests to find precancerous polyps. Exact Sciences said its tests found 92% of colon cancers in 10,000 patients while traditional screenings find 74% on average.

The FDA stressed that federal medical advisers have not endorsed the DNA-based stool screening. It's also very expensive -- $599 a patient, compared to $25 for traditional stool exams.

Exact Sciences' CEO Kevin Conroy said the cost for Cologuard is justified, saying that Americans spend $14 billion a year treating colon cancer that had gone undetected.


Conviction doesn’t stop Gary George from running for Congress

Gary George is doing something on a federal level today that he cannot do at the state or local level -- run for public office.

The Milwaukee Democrat was allowed to run for fellow Democrat Gwen Moore's U.S. House seat in today's primaries. But the state Constitution bars him from seeking state or local office, and he wants to see that changed.

George told the Journal Sentinel that if you've "done your time, and your rights have been restored, then all of your rights should be restored ... no limitations."

He did hedge, though, on whether convicted felons should ever own guns again. George said he never thought about that.

George, 60, spent four years in prison during the previous decade after he was convicted of taking $270,000 in illegal kickbacks from a now-defunct social service agency in exchange for political favors.

George had spent 23 years in the state Legislature and had once chaired its most powerful committee, Joint Finance.


Prison guards get 1% raise – over a month late

Wisconsin prison guards are finally getting a 1% pay raise that most other state employees received in late June.

The affected correctional officers had their raises held back until it could be determined whether a new union would be officially recognized. It wasn't. So officials said the raises will be retroactive to June 29.

The state's Employment Relations Commission ruled last month that the new Wisconsin Association for Correctional Law Enforcement did not win enough votes to be recognized. The group was given official recognition last year, but it was lost in a later vote.

Members had voted 813-43 to continue its certification, but the vast majority of the union's 5,400 members did not vote. Under the Act10 bargaining limits, 51% of a group's total membership must approve certification, which means that not voting is the same as voting no.