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Winter’s not done yet; Abrahamson files federal lawsuit to hold onto chief justice post; 14 more state news stories

Winter is returning to parts of northern Wisconsin. The National Weather Service says freezing rain moved in this morning north of a line from Tomahawk to Wausaukee.

More rain is expected this evening, followed by snow in north central Wisconsin. Four to seven inches are possible for Eagle River and Vilas County where a winter storm watch begins tonight.

Meanwhile, central and southern Wisconsin could see another batch of thunderstorms this afternoon.

Overnight storms dumped more than an inch of rain in the southwest quarter of the state. La Crosse got the most with 1 2/3 inches.

Small hail fell in a number of places between Hartford and Sparta. Madison was among the places getting quarter-inch hail.

Forecasters said this morning's batch of storms will head east later today. Actually, they might have helped morning commuters close to Lake Michigan. Had it not rained, the Weather Service said drivers could have faced heavy fog on their way to work or school. A dense fog advisory was canceled as a result.

The wet weather continues through tomorrow. Clear skies are in the forecast for Saturday with highs close to 60 in most parts of the state.

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Abrahamson files federal lawsuit to hold onto chief justice post

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson filed suit yesterday to try to keep her leadership post until her current term on the State Supreme Court ends in 2019.

The federal court suit came one day after voters approved a constitutional amendment to let the Supreme Court's seven members choose their own chief justice, ending a 126-year tradition of giving the post to the one with the most seniority.

Abrahamson has held the chief's post since 1996. But as one of just two liberals on the seven-member court, conservative critics have partially blamed her for the court's sometimes-public personal infighting from recent years.

State Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) said Abrahamson's lawsuit blocks the will of the voters, who approved the selection change 53% to 47% Tuesday.

Nass also said the lawsuit calls Abrahamson’s “judicial temperament and competency to serve” into question.

In her lawsuit, Abrahamson said the move undoes the results of her last election in 2009 as her current 10-year term would be disrupted. She claims removing her as chief justice would violate her rights to due process and equal protection under the law.

Abrahamson, 81, is the longest-service justice in state history, appointed in 1976 and reelected four times since.

She also asked for a temporary injunction to let her keep serving as chief while her suit is being considered. Her case will go before Madison Federal Judge James Peterson.

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Cumberland man accused of soliciting teen for sex

A Minnesota teacher from northwest Wisconsin is charged with soliciting sex from a 15-year-old boy he met while working for a theater group.

Andrew Hasty, 34, of Cumberland in on leave from his public school teaching post in Shakopee. He also resigned from the Chaska Valley Family Theater Group where he was said to have met the teenager.

According to Carver County prosecutors, Hasty sent inappropriate text messages to the boy a short time after he was asked to send photos of his genitals.

Officials said there was no immediate evidence that Hasty solicited other children, but his computers and other electronic devices are still being analyzed.

Hasty is jailed under a $10,000 cash bond on three charges that include soliciting to engage in child sexual conduct. He's due back in court tomorrow.

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Regents take up campuses’ requests to raise out-of-state tuition

The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents is about to consider requests from nine campuses to raise tuition for out-of-state students to help offset big cuts in state funding.

The board meets today and tomorrow at the two-year campus in Waukesha.

Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank says she'll ask the regents to approve increases of 9% to 20% for professional programs, two graduate degree programs and non-resident undergrads.

Eight of the 12 other four-year campuses want tuition hikes of 5.5% or less for similar students.

At Madison, some would face increases of $10,000 over the next four years.

Prof. Sara Goldrick-Rab said they could lock out a number of lower and middle class students from out of state while catering more to the wealthy. She said the impact is already being seen near the Madison campus where more high-end student apartments are opening.

One facility under construction will reportedly include a gym, golf simulator, hot tubs and spas.

Meanwhile Assemblyman John Spiros (R-Marshfield) said he and other lawmakers want to exempt the 13 two-year UW colleges from any cuts in state funding.  He said their enrollments are too small to absorb them.

Gov. Scott Walker's budget would slash $300 million in state funds for the UW over the next two years. Majority Republicans say the final figure will likely be less.

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Groups claim Kewaunee mega-farm is polluting water

Environmental groups have asked for a federal and state investigation into claims that manure from a mega-dairy farm is causing water pollution in Kewaunee County.

The Environmental Integrity Project of Washington joined local and regional groups in asking the government to review their evidence. They claim it shows that Kinnard Farms of Casco is the most likely source for polluted drinking water and streams in the Kewaunee County town of Lincoln.

They said they asked Washington to intervene because the state has not done enough to enforce safe practices for manure spreading. The Department of Natural Resources denies such a claim and says it's enforcing manure regulations.

In a referendum on Tuesday, Kewaunee County voted by almost a 5-1 margin to ban manure spreading from Jan. 1 through April 15. The idea is to prevent melting snow from helping manure seep into the ground.

Kinnard Farms attorney David Crass said his client is not causing the pollution. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the groups are seeking an “extreme remedy” for “conditions we see generally.”

An administrative law judge ruled last year that the farm could almost double the size of its dairy herd. The Environmental Protections Agency said it's working with the state on potential remedies to the Kewaukee County groundwater concerns.

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Man pleads guilty to transporting child porn

A Sheboygan County man has pleaded guilty to a federal charge of transporting child pornography.

Ryan Abbott, 23, of Plymouth was convicted yesterday in federal court in Portland, Maine.

Prosecutors said he sent several emails to an undercover agent in Maine last fall. Some of the messages had links to child porn images in a cloud-storage site.

Abbott also admitted sending video files that depicted children in sexually-explicit activities.

Abbott was arrested last December in eastern Wisconsin, and was taken to Maine to face his charges. A sentencing date has not been set. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

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Study says Wisconsin’s VA hospitals have shorter wait times

Wisconsin's 19 VA hospitals and clinics are serving patients faster than the national average, but there are problem areas at Madison and Milwaukee.

The Associated Press examined waiting times to get appointments at 940 veterans' facilities from last September through February. That's after long delays around the country led to last year's resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shineski and prompted Congress to pass a bill requiring more timely care for veterans.

In Wisconsin, 1.4% of appointments at the 19 VA facilities were completed within the standard 30-day waiting period. That's well below the national percentage of 2.8%.

However, 4% of Milwaukee's appointments were not completed within a month, and Madison had 3.3% of its patients delayed beyond 30 days. Last September, 187 appointments in Milwaukee took longer than two months to complete. That number more than doubled in February, to 455.

Officials said those with the longest delays were seeking specialty care for things like eye and ear problems.  At the Madison VA hospital, officials said their delays were caused in part by a higher patient demand in January.

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Cutters chip through ice on Lake Superior

Shipping operations on the Great Lakes could return to normal by mid-day tomorrow after a large field of ice created a shipping jam yesterday on eastern Lake Superior, west of the Soo Locks.

The Coast Guard has two giant ice-cutters chipping away at the 35 square mile ice jam. The cutters included the Alder from Duluth-Superior and the Mackinaw -- which is the largest ice-breaker on the Great Lakes. Several smaller units are working to create paths for incoming ships.

Six vessels that are headed for the lower Great Lakes are trapped for now along with a dozen boats heading to Upper Lake Superior. At last word, two outbound vessels cleared the ice jam with the help of a Canadian cutter. One boat, the Kaye E. Barker, had a hole punched its hull due to the thick ice.

--Minnesota News Network

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Homeowner holds burglar at gunpoint until help arrives

Madison police said a homeowner helped break up a crime spree by confronting two burglars in his garage and holding one of them at gunpoint until officers arrived last Friday morning.

Police said the two men, ages 19-and-20, had earlier pointed a gun at a 90-year-old woman while stealing jewelry from her home. An hour later, they reportedly stole cash and electronics from another house where a 22-year-old woman.

They then went to a third house where police said the armed homeowner confronted them. Officials said one of them ran off, but the homeowner disarmed the other suspect and held him until police could get there. The homeowner's wife called 9-1-1.

Charges are pending against the suspects.

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Milwaukee community leader found dead in car outside athletic club

An autopsy is scheduled for today to determine why Marc Marotta died.

The former Milwaukee and Wisconsin political and community leader and Marquette basketball star died yesterday at age 52.

The Journal Sentinel said he was found unresponsive in his car outside the Wisconsin Athletic Club in Glendale. Media reports indicate that he died from an apparent heart attack.

Marotta was the current chairman of the BMO Harris Bradley Center board and was heavily involved in talks over a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks and his alma mater of Marquette.

He also headed the Wisconsin Department of Administration former Gov. Jim Doyle, was a business lawyer and partner at Foley and Lardner  and was on the boards of Milwaukee World Festivals, Summerfest and the city's Boys and Girls Clubs.

Doyle told the Journal Sentinel he lost a “dear, dear friend” in Marotta. Doyle said everything Marotta did was motivated by his “selfless and caring nature.”

Marotta was a three-time basketball All-American at Marquette, graduating in 1984. Former teammate Ulice Payne said he was shocked over Marotta's death. He said the two were planning to watch the Bucks play Cleveland last night.

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Remains identified as those of woman missing for two years

Human remains found in Shawano County are now identified as those of a woman missing for almost two years.

Heather Szekeres was last seen alive in June 2013 at the Final Lap Bar in Shawano. Her husband reported her missing two days later.

Sheriff's deputies said Heather's remains were found in May of last year in the town of Richmond. Yesterday officials said Szekeres was identified through DNA that was found on the remains.

Shawano County deputies are investigating the death as a homicide. They say there is no apparent threat to others from the possibility of a suspect.

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Natural Resources Board OKs keeping 3-walleye limit

The state Natural Resources Board has approved a steady limit of three walleyes per day for sport anglers on the off-reservation waters where Chippewa Indians spearfish.

For years, the Department of Natural Resources has adjusted the bag limits in accordance with the number of walleye taken by Chippewa tribes during the April spearing. Residents in the tribes' ceded territory in northern Wisconsin had asked for a more predictable set-up.

The D-N-R's Steve Hewett told the Natural Resources Board that the new rules would keep the harvest within safe limits. The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission has not commented on the change, which the governor and Legislature can reject if they choose.

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Hard liquor sample tasting now legal

Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill Wednesday to let customers taste free samples of hard liquor in stores -- just like they do now for beer and wine samples.

The samples can be provided from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at outlets licensed to sell alcohol.

Distillery officials say it puts them on an equal footing with beer and wine makers when it comes to allowing new ways to sell their products. The measure passed both houses in the past few weeks with strong bipartisan support.

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School trust board orders employees not to work on global warming issues

A board that manages school trust assets has ordered its employees not to work on global warming issues on state time.

The Board of Commissioners of Public Lands voted 2-1 to prohibit its staffers from using work hours on climate change.

One of the board members, State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk, proposed the ban after learning that agency director Tia Nelson had served on a state global warming task force in 2007 and 2008. Nelson is a daughter of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson.

Adamczyk accused Nelson of doing task force business on the board's time. He said she still adds notes on the subject in the board's reports every two years.

Adamczyk said climate change has nothing to do with the agency's responsibilities to manage school trust assets, make loans to government agencies and give grants to school libraries.

Nelson has not commented on this week's vote, but she has said that she's proud of her record in the agency. She said she has managed $1 billion in school trust assets efficiently without her office using a penny of tax dollars.

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Moratorium on disconnecting utilities ends April 15

Next week at this time, Wisconsin utilities can start disconnecting customers who are behind on their electric and natural gas bills.

The state's annual winter moratorium on service disconnections ends after April 15.

At least one utility says more customers than last year could be caught off-guard. Wisconsin Public Service of Green Bay says about 28,000 of its customers are at least four months behind on their bills. That's about 2,000 more than last year, and the average amount they owe is 5% higher.

Public Service will send disconnection notices to those in north central and northeast Wisconsin who've made no attempt to pay for their service all winter.

Utilities throughout the state say they're willing to consider payment plans for those who need them, but it's the customers who need to make the first move by calling their service providers.

---Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander

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Fund established for family of scalded toddler

The family of a 16-month-old Wausau area boy has started a fund to help pay his medical bills after his face was burned by scalding hot water.

The toddler is at the UW Burn Center in Madison, where he's being treated for second-degree facial burns.

Authorities said the mother's boyfriend was alone with the youngster when he scalded the boy's face March 17.

The benefit account is set up at Wausau's River Valley Bank in care of a relative Mary Wenzel.

The suspect, Christopher Kolden, 22, of Weston, is charged in Marathon County with felony reckless child abuse. He's also charged with three misdemeanor counts of obstructing police after he reportedly claimed that the youngster turned on the tap water in a bathtub and scalded himself.

At a court conference yesterday, Kolden waived the state's time limits for a preliminary hearing. He's due back in court a week from today for a pretrial proceeding.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

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