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Blacks had higher voting percentage than whites in 2012; Study shows hospital prices for common procedures vary vastly; more state news

For the first time ever, African-Americans had a higher voting rate than whites in last fall's presidential election, and Wisconsin appeared to have followed the same trend.

The U.S. Census Bureau said Wednesday that 66.2% of blacks voted nationally, 1.5% higher than the rate for white voters.

The Census Bureau surveyed Americans about their voting and found that 79% of black Wisconsin adults went to the polls, compared to 75% of non-Hispanic whites. There was a 10% margin of error in the Wisconsin survey due to the state's relatively small numbers of black voters.

But Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analyst Craig Gilbert said the voting percentages appeared to be consistent with the election results. Milwaukee is where the state's black vote is concentrated, and the city gave more votes to President Obama last year than in 2008 - even though the statewide support declined.

The national Census report also showed that the voter turnout for black women was nine percentage points higher than for men. Overall, about 4% more women than men voted last November.

The youth vote - which Obama especially courted in 2008 - dropped this time. Obama is the nation's first African-American president, and this term is his last. Census officials would not project what the racial voting trends might be in the future.


Study shows hospital prices for common procedures vary vastly

Federal health officials have released figures on what hospitals charge for 100 common medical procedures. But private analysts say the numbers are meaningless because they don't reflect the discounts that insurance companies negotiate.

The analysts say the new government figures are "sticker" prices that are often twice as much as what insurers and patients actually pay.

However, the numbers do show that it pays to shop around. For example, the list price for treating complications of heart failure is $14,000 at Wheaton Franciscan hospital in Franklin while the same procedure costs $8,000 more at Columbia-St. Mary's in Milwaukee.

The price gap is even wider for major joint replacements. The government says prices range from $25,000 at Sauk-Prairie hospital to $64,000 at Beloit Memorial.


Buried horse carcasses could mean well-water problems for Pleasant Prairie homes

Neighbors of a Kenosha County couple accused of neglecting horses are being urged to have their drinking water tested.

Sheriff's investigators found almost 70 animal carcasses buried on the defendants' land at Pleasant Prairie. Authorities said the carcasses were found close to a stream that feeds the area's well system for drinking water, and officials fear that at least some drinking water might be contaminated.

Paula Moctezuma, 62, of Pleasant Prairie and David White, 59, of Zion, Ill., are charged with one felony count each of mistreating animals while causing death.

Authorities said five dead horses were found in stalls at the farm last month. Almost two dozen horses were seized, some malnourished.

White and Moctezuma are both free on signature bonds. They're due back in court next Tuesday.


Lawmakers look at $14 million increase for new development corporation

The state Legislature's Joint Finance Committee will consider a $14 million increase today in the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation's next two-year budget.

The agency is under fire for not following state-mandated policies and not properly awarding and monitoring tax breaks to companies for creating jobs.

Finance Co-chairman John Nygren said it's possible that his panel will delay the WEDC's proposed increase until it makes certain reforms and becomes more accountable. Nygren said lawmakers will give the corporation a chance to fix itself.

Both Nygren and GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos agree with Gov. Scott Walker that the agency has become more receptive to businesses than the former state Commerce Department.

But Vos said, "They've done some things I'm not proud of."

Walker said many of the problems stemmed from old and unwritten Commerce policies that the new agency had relied upon.

Agency head Reed Hall told the WEDC board yesterday that new procedures are already in place for tracking loans, and computers are being upgraded.

Board member Julie Lassa, a Democratic senator from Stevens Point, said taxpayers are angry about the way the agency's been run. If the department doesn't reform itself, Lassa said lawmakers will do it for them. At worst, that could mean replacing the public-private WEDC with a new government office.


Bill would limit drones in Wisconsin

Four state lawmakers from both parties will unveil a new bill today to ban the use of drones in Wisconsin.

Assemblyman Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, said the measure would generally prohibit law enforcement and others from using drones equipped with video or audio equipment or those that use weapons.

August said the bill is designed to protect people's privacy in the face of new technology. The measure would also specify that law enforcement can use drones only for manhunts and other legitimate purposes. Current laws do not spell out such rules.

Assemblymen David Craig (R-Big Bend), Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) and Chris Taylor (D-Madison) will join August in unveiling their legislation at a late morning news conference.


1,500 artifacts donated to 'hamburger home'

The "Home of the Hamburger" could soon have the tastiest museum ever.

About 1,500 artifacts were recently donated to Seymour's community museum. The local historical society president hopes to have it all on display when Seymour holds its annual Burger Fest Aug. 9-10.

Group president Bill Collar told WLUK TV in Green Bay that the museum now has the world's largest burger display collection. He said Jeffrey Tennyson saw the hamburger as a cultural icon, and he started collecting burger memorabilia in the 1980's.

Tennyson wrote a history of the hamburger in 1993. When he died in 2006, Collar said Tennyson left his collection to a friend in Palm Springs, Calif., and that person decided that it all belongs in Seymour.

The collection includes hamburger telephones, golf balls, salt and pepper shakers and much more. Some of it's already on display after being donated a month ago. Collar says the museum will also have a photo exhibit on Seymour's hamburger history starting next Friday.


Less snow puts some plants, frogs as risk, say scientists

Wisconsin has been getting less snow cover in recent winters, and a UW-Madison study shows that it might be putting certain plants and frogs at risk.

The research indicates that maximum snow depths have been moved back from January to February in the Snow Belt. Also, the region's total snow cover since 1970 has dropped by 7% during March and 11% during April through 2010.

Assistant ecology professor Jonathan Pauli said a number of organisms spend their winters in a base layer between snow and the heat-generating soil. Those organisms include beetles and ticks, plus fungi that help invigorate the soil by springtime.

Pauli said wood frogs are very susceptible to changing winters. If they freeze too much, they lose their protection abilities. If it's too warm, their energy is sapped by dealing with temperature cycles.

UW expert Benjamin Zuckerberg said the species might become more stressed in the future because of Wisconsin's location at the south end of the Snow Belt. The scientists blame climate change.


Surprise: Milwaukee is 7th most-exciting city

Milwaukee is surprisingly vibrant, according to the authors of a new national survey.

Movoto Real Estate rates Wisconsin's largest city as the seventh most-exciting city in America.

In a statement, company analysts said they never would have guessed that Milwaukee would make the list, but it turns out that Brew City is "simply solid on all our criteria."

Those criteria included racial and ethnic diversity, the percentage of the population age 20-34, the amount of park acreage per person, and the numbers of bars, music venues, theater companies and museums per square mile.

Cities got negative points for having lots of fast-food restaurants and big-box department stores.

The 50 largest U-S cities were surveyed. Oakland, Calif., was rated the most exciting, followed by Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, New York and then Milwaukee. Atlanta was eighth, followed by Philadelphia and Portland, Ore.


Informed-consent revision bill passes Assembly

The Wisconsin Assembly has voted to let doctors give less information to patients about alternative medical treatments.

The vote was 65-31 yesterday in favor of a bill from Jim Ott (R-Mequon). He wants to nullify a State Supreme Court decision from last year that told doctors to inform patients about all alternative treatments which might benefit them - even if they're not related to their diagnoses.

The ruling stemmed from the case of Thomas Jandre. He was diagnosed as having Bell's Palsy, and was awarded $2 million after his doctor was found negligent in not telling him about an ultrasound that could have warded off a stroke he suffered.

Ott said his bill still requires what a reasonable doctor would tell a patient. Sun Prairie Democrat Gary Hebl said the bill goes too far in changing the state's informed consent rules.

Also, the Assembly voted 58-39 on a bill that would delay trials in lawsuits from people exposed to asbestos.

Republican supporters say plaintiffs often try to hide the fact that they're seeking money from the trust funds of businesses that go bankrupt. They say judges don't get the whole story before deciding the levels of responsibility.

But victims' groups say the bill delays justice for many people exposed to asbestos, mostly from their service in the military.

The new bill requires plaintiffs to disclose claims against trust funds, and trials would be delayed six months in those instances.

Both bills now go to the Senate.