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Mining bill passes state Senate; Democrat accuses GOP of helping some businesses, slighting others; more state briefs

A proposed iron ore mine in far northern Wisconsin has cleared its most difficult political hurdle.

Wisconsin senators voted 17 to 16 last night in favor of sweeping changes in the state's mining regulations. They'll go to the state Assembly next week where a 20-vote Republican majority will appear to give easy approval.

Soon after, Gov. Scott Walker is expected to sign what Senate Republican Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst called "the first step in the rebirth of the mining industry."

Democrats warned that such a renaissance would be years away as mining opponents drag the issue through the courts. Bob Jauch of Poplar called the bill a corporate giveaway.

Dale Schultz of Richland Center - the only Republican to join Democrats in voting no - said it would lead to environmental damage and a boom-to-bust economy in the north.

Indians who fear damage to their water quality chanted and drummed in the Capitol Rotunda during the day.

"Thank you for signing our death warrant," said one protestor after the Senate vote

The package is designed to help Gogebic Taconite create hundreds of jobs with the largest mine in state history -- to be located in Ashland and Iron counties.

During hours of debate, the GOP majority swept away a dozen Democratic amendments by the same one-vote margin. Among other things, they would have further regulated the dumping of waste rock, forced miners to pay taxes for extracting materials even if they don't make a profit and let the public continue to object to mining proposals in hearings before permits are issued.

Tiffany said technology has advanced to the point in which the issue is no longer jobs versus the environment. He said the state could have both.


Democrat accuses GOP of helping some businesses, slighting others

Wisconsin Republicans keep saying that job creation is No. 1, but at least one Democrat accuses the GOP of picking winners and losers in that pursuit.

Stevens Point Senator Julie Lassa scolded her majority colleagues on the Senate floor last night, right after they voted to make it easier for Gogebic Taconite to start an iron ore mine in the name of creating jobs.

Lassa said lawmakers might have voted to let her hometown software firm of Skyward leave Wisconsin by deciding last year to allow only one vendor instead of two develop a statewide student information system.

A Minnesota firm won the contract, but Skyward is appealing, saying it was not evaluated properly. If Skyward doesn't win its appeal, the home-grown firm says it would have no choice but to leave.

"We've chosen to make a winner out of a West Virginia coal mining company when at the same time, we have a Wisconsin company who's ready and willing to create 600 good-paying jobs within the next 10 years ... and we're closing the door on them," Lassa told her Senate colleagues.

Gogebic Taconite is part of the Florida-based Cline Group, which operates coal mines in West Virginia.


Southeast Wisconsin expects more snow

More light snow is expected today in southeast Wisconsin where up to 15 inches fell in a two-day burst in Sheboygan.

Kenosha had around 14 inches, Racine 13, and Milwaukee 10. Places further inland had less - as much as eight inches in Waukesha and seven in Madison to just a couple inches or less in many other parts of the state.

Two deaths in Wisconsin were blamed on the snow - part of a second massive storm in a week that's caused much more havoc in places like Kansas and Missouri. Kansas had six storm-related deaths, tens of thousands lost electricity in Michigan, and up to 100 flights were delayed or canceled at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

In Walworth County, Carlos Cantu, 44, of Lake Geneva died Wednesday after his pickup slid on a snowy Hwy. 11 near Delavan and hit an oncoming milk truck. A 71-year-old Milwaukee man collapsed and died yesterday afternoon after snow-blowing his driveway.

Milwaukee County EMS officials said at least three people injured their hands and lost fingers while attempting to unclog their snow blowers.

Forecasters say southern and eastern Wisconsin will get more light snow and flurries today, and strong winds will continue statewide. A dry weekend is expected.


Robber stopped by gun-carrying customer gets probation

A Milwaukee man will spend four years on probation after he was involved in a grocery store holdup that was foiled by a customer with a concealed weapon.

The case made big news because it was the first crime to be prevented because of the state's concealed carry law, which was only three months old at the time.

Edyon Hibbler, 21, was sentenced this week. He did not get any more jail time other than the year he served while the case was going through the courts.

Hibbler was waiting outside when his partner Dierre Cotton was threatening a cashier at a Milwaukee Aldi's store with a sawed-off shotgun. Customer Nazir Al-Mujaahid shot Cotton in the leg and grazed him on the head.

Cotton and Hibbler were arrested later and were charged in the Aldi's incident and two other Milwaukee store holdups.

Cotton, 21, has pleaded guilty to the three robberies and will be sentenced April 8. Al-Mujaahid was not charged, although he was not allowed to have the concealed weapon inside the store. He's still waiting for authorities to give him his gun back.


Wisconsinites get $144 million in mortgage settlement

Wisconsin's attorney general said residents have received almost $144 million from a national settlement of a consumer lawsuit against mortgage lenders.

JB Van Hollen said just over 3,000 borrowers in Wisconsin have gotten some type of relief. The average settlement per borrower is just under $47,000.

Van Hollen also said the total awards in Wisconsin were a bit larger than the $140 million that was first projected.

The national settlement was reached with Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Residential Capital. It totaled $25 billion. The suit accused the lenders of abusive practices in foreclosing on delinquent home loans.


Newspaper reps speak out against plan to charge large fees for preparing government documents for release

State lawmakers were told Wednesday that a bill to charge large fees for deleting confidential data from public records would make it easier for governments to shove their misdeeds and bad news under the rug.

The concerns were raised at a committee hearing on a bill that nullifies a State Supreme Court ruling from last year. The court said Milwaukee Police could not charge the Journal Sentinel $4,000 to redact confidential parts of records for news stories on how the department classifies crimes.

Former sheriff Garey Bies, an Assembly Republican from Sister Bay, sponsored the bill. The panel delayed a vote on it.

A number of police, local government and University of Wisconsin leaders said those who want public records need to share the cost of preparing them for public release.

Media attorney Bob Dreps said many records are maintained electronically so it should not cost that much to delete what's confidential. Dreps said the bill would make it easier to discourage requests for records by demanding thousands of dollars, and governments would be more likely to charge it if the information is sensitive or damaging.

Curt Witynski of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities vowed it would not happen.

Michael Juley of the Journal Sentinel called the bill a "serious threat" to the state Open Records Law, saying it goes against the intentions of those who passed it in 1981.


Survey: Feingold would be strong gubernatorial candidate

Governor Feingold? It might sound out of place now, but a new poll says former U.S. Senate Democrat Russ Feingold would run even with Republican Gov. Scott Walker if the 2014 election were held today.

Forty-nine percent of the nearly 1,800 voters surveyed by the Public Policy Polling firm said they would choose Feingold in a head-to-head race with Walker, while the governor would get 47%. The difference is within the poll's 2.3% margin of error so it's a statistical dead heat.

The survey also gave Feingold a 10-point lead over the man who unseated him two years ago, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican.

The poll also shows that Walker's approval rating has gone down since last fall. It's at 48% now, down from 51% just before the November elections.

The respondents were polled from last Thursday through Sunday, right after Walker proposed a state budget that highlighted a possible income tax cut.

The polling firm did say that other Democrats besides Feingold could not stop Walker from winning a second term. The head-to-head polling gives Walker a four-point lead over Congressman Ron Kind, 5% over Assembly Speaker Peter Barca, 6% over Middleton state Senator Jon Erpenbach, seven points over ex-congressman Steve Kagen, and nine points over former lieutenant governor nominee Mahlon Mitchell.


New neighbors don't roll out welcome mat for former governor

Former Racine Mayor Gary Becker was very popular at one time, but now some of his new neighbors are upset about where he moved after being freed from prison this week.

Becker spent three years behind bars for arranging sex on the Internet with a 14-year-old girl who was actually a state Department of Justice agent performing a sting operation.

Becker's new home is about two blocks from a Racine elementary school. The address was made public yesterday, when he signed up on a state Internet site for registered sex offenders.

Some of Becker's new neighbors told the Racine Journal Times they should have known before now that the former mayor was moving in. One called the lack of notification "disturbing."

Becker declined comment. The paper quoted him as saying, "I'm good, thanks," and then shut the door on a reporter.

He'll be on extended supervision for the next five years. The conditions include treatment, getting a job, no alcohol, taking periodic urine tests and not going online unless a probation agent approves.


Fishermen asked to report trout-gill lice

Wisconsin's early trout fishing season begins on Saturday, and the Department of Natural Resources wants to know if anglers are seeing lice on the trouts' gills.

The lice are parasitic crustaceans that can land on the gills of a brook trout. They make it difficult for the fish to breathe and slow the brook trouts' growth and development.

The parasite has traditionally been in streams, and it has never caused a concern for human health. But the DNR does not know how widespread the lice are. DNR workers say more anglers have been finding it over the past three years.

Officials are asking trout anglers to go to the Trout Unlimited website after they go out fishing each time and fill out a report which lists the species of the fish they caught and whether they had gill lice or not.


Where in the world is Guido? Back in Cedarburg

Guido is back.

The 7 ft. costume of the famous Italian racing sausage was stolen from a festival in Cedarburg 12 days ago.

Last night around 8 p.m., two men plopped the costume onto a bar at TJ Ryan's in Cedarburg. They then fled quickly, and bartender Jen Mahony called police.

The missing sausage attracted lots of publicity Wednesday in southeast Wisconsin where the characters make numerous public appearances when they're not racing each other during the Milwaukee Brewers baseball games.

Guido's costume is owned by the Klement's sausage company, and is worth $3,000.

Cedarburg Police said they took the matter seriously, but they could not say if charges would be pursued if the thieves are found.

Several food companies offered rewards yesterday for the return of Guido. Ryan Downs of GLK Foods in Appleton called the Racine Sausages a "statewide treasure." He said the theft should not go unpunished.