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Sen. Johnson: States should decide on gay marriage; State antes up for road damage caused by logging trucks; More state news

Wisconsin's Republican U.S. senator says it should be up to the states to decide social issues like same-sex marriage.

Ron Johnson went on the CNBC "Squawk Box" show Monday to continue pushing his focus on economic issues. When the subject was changed to social matters, Johnson said he would not get in the way of same-sex marriages if the voters decide they want them.

He added that he's a "traditional" man who personally believes in one-man, one-woman marriage. Still, Johnson said he would support whatever the people want on matters like gay marriage and abortions.

On immigration, Johnson said the country needs "a functioning legal system" that seeks to reduce or get rid of incentives for undocumented immigrants. Still, Johnson said none of Wisconsin's many migrant workers have ever asked for citizenship.

He said they just don't want Washington to deport their “moms and dads, their husbands and wives.” In Johnson's words, "I don't think we're going to do that."


State antes up for road damage caused by logging trucks

The state will help local governments pay for road damage caused by the cleanup of a massive windstorm almost three years ago.

Yesterday, Gov. Scott Walker gave the Department of Natural Resources approval to pay disaster aid in Burnett, Washburn and Douglas counties in northwest Wisconsin. It will cover up to 70% of damages to local and county roads.

The damage was caused by trucks and other equipment that removed timber from hundreds of thousands of trees that were blown down. Those road damages alone totaled $14 million.

Straight-line winds of over 100 mph damaged 130,000 acres of trees in a half-dozen counties during the July 4 weekend of 2011. An 11-year-old girl was killed by the storm in Spooner.

In the ensuing months, much of the state government's concern was saving millions of dollars worth of timber that had the potential to rot had nothing been done.


Shoreview man charged with voting multiple times

Prosecutors said a suburban Milwaukee man voted five times in the recall election against Gov. Scott Walker in 2012.

Robert Monroe, 50, of Shorewood has been charged with 13 felony counts of election fraud. He's free at least until his initial Milwaukee County Circuit Court appearance on July 17.

Prosecutors said Monroe used addresses in Shorewood, Milwaukee and Indiana to vote multiple times in four elections. In the 2012 presidential contest, authorities said Monroe voted absentee in Shorewood on Nov. 1 and then showed a driver's license to vote in Lebanon, Ind., on the Nov. 6 Election Day. Officials said he owned a house in Indiana.

His criminal complaint said Monroe also voted twice in the 2011 State Supreme Court election and the 2011 recall vote against Senate Republican Alberta Darling. Prosecutors said Monroe also cast an illegal ballot in the August 2012 partisan primaries.


Name of motorcyclists killed in weekend accident released

One of at least three motorcyclists to die in weekend crashes in Wisconsin was identified yesterday as Brian Jovanovic, 34, of Eagle River.

Wood County authorities said his bike collided with a vehicle that drove through a stop sign on Hwy. 10 at Hwy. 186 near Auburndale Saturday night.

Sheriff's deputies said the vehicle driver was threatened so officials are withholding the driver's name for safety reasons. The motorcyclist was sent to a Marshfield hospital where he died a short time after the crash.


Football player escapes by jumping from house hit by plane

A central Wisconsin native who played NFL football is lucky to be alive, after a plane crashed into his brother-in-law's house near the Twin Cities.

Mosinee High School standout Kole Heckendorf and his new wife were planning to start their new home and were staying at Jeff Hille's house in Sauk Rapids, Minn., when a small plane hit the house last Friday.

Both people in the plane were killed instantly, along with Heckendorf's dog Storm. Hille was away at a golf tournament. Heckendorf said he didn't have time to do much of anything before he jumped out of a second-story window and escaped unhurt. Much, but not all, of his belongings were at the home, and everything inside was lost in an explosion.

From Mosinee, Heckendorf went on to play college football at North Dakota State. The Green Bay Packers signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2009. Over the next three years, he spent time with Detroit, Seattle, San Diego and Indianapolis before leaving football without playing in a regular season game.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Realtors report sales declining but houses still affordable

Wisconsin Realtors say housing remains relatively affordable even with prices going up.

Monday the state Realtors Association reported its fifth straight month of declining home sales compared to the previous year. Sales were down almost 7% statewide, while the median home price rose by almost 4% to $150,000.

The group said new homes have become slightly less affordable based on the state's Housing Affordability Index, but Realtors president Michael Theo said new listings and inventory levels both rose slightly last month. He said both factors should continue to make Wisconsin homes relatively affordable.

Realtors board chairman Steve Lane said the higher home prices were partially why sales have declined. He also cites higher interest rates and tighter federal mortgage regulations.


200 students evacuated after report of gun in school

Summer school classes are resuming today at Green Bay East High School after it was evacuated Monday following a report of a person with a gun inside.

Police took two people into custody but did not immediately say what prompted the incident. They said a pellet gun was later found. It was believed to be the weapon involved. No one was hurt.

School officials said around 200 youngsters were in the school when a parade of law enforcement vehicles arrived around 9 a.m. yesterday. They were released one classroom at a time and were sent to a middle school for the rest of the school day.


Rain delays planting, but crops in ground doing well

Last week's tornadoes and heavy downpours kept Wisconsin farmers out of their fields most of the time, but it stayed warm so the crops kept growing nicely.

The National Ag Statistics Service said 79% of the Wisconsin corn crop remains in good to excellent condition.

After a cold spring, the corn is already as high as 36 inches at Washburn County in the far northwest. Southern Wisconsin reports 12- to 30-inch corn.

All but 4% of the state's soybean crop is planted, and 79% of it is rated good to excellent.

The state's first hay crop continues to make nice progress with 82% harvested. However, the rapid growth is causing some of it to mature too quickly and lose quality.

Obviously, soil moisture is not a problem. Officials said 39% of Wisconsin fields have surplus moisture, up from 15% a week ago.


Plane wreckage pulled from Lake Superior

The wreckage of a fatal plane crash was removed yesterday from the deep waters near Duluth-Superior.

The body of the pilot, Alexander Obersteg, 47, of Steinfeld, Germany, was recovered on June 9 -- two days after the crash.

Officials said the man's kit-built Lancair IV was heading to Goose Bay in far eastern Canada when it plunged into Lake Superior about a half-mile east of a beach in Duluth. Rescue divers from northwest Wisconsin helped pull Obersteg's body from the water, but it took two weeks longer to pull the plane's wreckage from 140 ft. below the lake's surface.

The FAA will examine the aircraft before determining how the crash occurred. A medical emergency by the pilot has been ruled out.


16 new charges filed against man who fired at deputies

No charges will be filed against Barron County sheriff's deputies who exchanged gunshots with a fleeing suspect, but the suspect faces 16 new charges for that incident.

The deputies said they were trying to stop Jared Brendel, 32, of Dallas, Wis., on several previous charges when he led them on a 10-mile chase into neighboring Dunn County on June 3.

There, a squad car forced Brendel's vehicle into a ditch. Officials said he fired shots at Barron County Captain Ron Baures and Sgt. Tim Prytz and at a squad car driven by Deputy Jeff Wolfe. The officers shot back. Nobody was struck or hurt.

Yesterday Dunn County District Attorney Andrew Maki said the deputies were justified in using force to protect themselves and others.

Brendel is due in court July 15 on 13 new Dunn County criminal charges that include attempted homicide, pointing a gun at officers, reckless endangerment and vehicle theft. Brendel was also given three traffic citations that include driving under a suspended license.

The six charges for which he was originally wanted included eluding an officer and driving with a revoked license. He was supposed to have a plea hearing in that case yesterday in Barron County, but that got pushed back to Sept. 8.


PAC sues over donation limit

A Wisconsin political action committee filed suit yesterday, hoping to strike down the state's total limits on what legislative candidates can receive from all such groups.

The conservative CRG Network claims that recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings put the Wisconsin law into question -- even though the State Supreme Court upheld it in 1990.

The law limits a state Senate candidate to just over $15,000 in total contributions from special interest PAC's. Assembly candidates are limited to just under $8,000.

The CRG Network said it tried making small donations to three people, but those candidates returned either some or all of the money because they had already received the maximum allowed from other political action groups.

In a statement announcing the suit, attorney Rick Esenberg said the restrictions “cannot be justified by the state's interest in avoid corruption in the campaign process.”

The defendants are members of the state Government Accountability Board, which oversees the election process. The state Department of Justice says it will review the lawsuit and respond accordingly.


Former guardsman gets life sentence for killing girlfriend, severely wounding another woman

A former member of the Air National Guard will spend the rest of his life in prison for killing his girlfriend and wounding another woman outside a bar in Mauston.

Cody Treul, 30, of Mauston was sentenced Monday to life with no chance for a supervised release.

Treul pleaded no contest in March to a Juneau County charge of first-degree intentional homicide.

Authorities said he shot and killed Gail Howland, 29, and wounded Ebony Lasher -- who was then 23 -- outside of PJ's Bar and Grill in downtown Mauston on May 31 of last year. Lasher became a paraplegic.


Douglas County supervisors endorse Heritage Area

Douglas County is the latest to endorse a long-running effort to create a National Heritage Area in the St. Croix River valley.

Supervisors in Superior recently voted to include the southern part of Douglas County in a proposed National Park Service zone. It would recognize the region's fur-trading and logging heritage and would cover 17 counties in northwest Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Jason Laumann of Northwest Regional Planning, the coordinating agency for the effort, said this is a grassroots effort that's been going on since 2009. The goal is to highlight the region's heritage with an eye toward improving the local economy. With the federal government's help, Laumann says the nation's 49 other heritage areas attract five investment dollars for every one that's spent.

A public comment period ends next Monday. Laumann said the next step would be to encourage Superior's congressman, Sean Duffy, to work with others on congressional approval that would be needed to establish the new Heritage Area.


PSC spokesperson says merger won’t mean rate hike

The largest electric utility to be acquired by We Energies is trying to assure customers that they don't have to clutch their wallets -- not now, anyway.

Lisa Prunty of the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation said the utility's proposed acquisition by the parent firm of We Energies does not carry a rate increase. That's a sensitive subject, and as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel points out, it's the big reason that a planned merger of Wisconsin Energy and what's now Xcel Energy of Minnesota was scrapped in the mid-1990's.

At the time, Public Service and smaller utilities worried about the effects of a possible power monopoly in the Upper Midwest.

The Wisconsin Citizens Utility Board said yesterday it would "fight" to make sure consumers are protected in the proposed new deal.

Wisconsin's paper industry is also worried about rising prices. An official of the state's Paper Council says it's too early to conclude anything, however.

The We Energies parent plans to buy Integrys Energy of Chicago for over $9 billion. Wisconsin Energy CEO Gale Klappa said it's a consolidating industry right now, and the new deal would help make the new utility become more efficient and as “price-competitive” as possible.

Numerous regulatory approvals are needed. The two parties say the deal could be finalized in about a year.