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Food stamp benefits cut; Rain could change to light snow in some places tonight; More Wisconsin news

About 900,000 Wisconsinites will get a reduction in their food stamp benefits starting today when a funding increase from the Obama stimulus package expires.

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act added $45 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2009 at the height of the Great Recession. That money ends today, causing a decrease in monthly Food-Share benefits of $36 for a family of four and $29 for a family of three.

Tamarine Cornelius of the Wisconsin Budget Project says it's not a good time to slash public food benefits because there's still a lot of poverty, wages are not as high as before, and there's still a relatively high level of unemployment.

Cornelius says 40% of Wisconsin's FoodShare benefits go to children. She said the reduction will make it that much harder for their parents to put food on the table.

It could get even harder soon. Congress is negotiating a new Farm Bill in which both parties are seeking decreases in food stamp benefits, albeit at different levels.


Rain could change to light snow in some places tonight

It's the first of November, and forecasters say it will feel like it today. The National Weather Service says brisk northwest winds will push into Wisconsin and cool things down.

Highs are expected to be in the 40's statewide after parts of southern Wisconsin basked in the low 60's yesterday -- about 10 degrees above normal.

Summerlike rains also went through the southern part of the state. La Crosse had its highest dew point for Halloween since 2000 with a high reading of 52. Gays Mills in the southwest had around 1 ½ inches.

Last night, Watertown lived up to its name by getting around 1 ½ inches of rain.

Forecasters say a low pressure system will keep light showers around today and into the weekend. Rain could change to light snow tonight and tomorrow in northern Wisconsin. More mild air is expected Sunday and Monday with cooler temps and more precipitation possible on Tuesday.


Democrats cry foul over Common Core testimony

An arm of the conservative John Birch Society paid to have experts testify against the Common Core academic standards at public hearings in Wisconsin.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said the American Opinion Foundation -- a John Birch affiliate -- paid to have a former Bush education official and other academic experts speak for themselves at hearings this month in Wausau, Eau Claire and Fond du Lac. The group said local residents raised $5,500 to cover the speakers' expenses.

It was enough to make Milwaukee Assembly Democrat Christine Sinicki quit the Assembly's special committee on the Common Core standards. She said it's wrong to have extreme national interest groups orchestrate the proceedings.

Senate Democrat Tim Cullen of Janesville said he's never seen "the clear attempt to hide" who the speakers were representing.

Assembly panel chairman Jeremy Thiesfeldt of Fond du Lac said the hearings were "absolutely on the up and up." He said school representatives got taxpayer funding to testify.

Both houses formed study committees after tea party critics called Common Core a vehicle for a federal takeover of education. Wisconsin adopted the standards three years ago without much fanfare, and some Republicans wanted a second look.

The standards have been praised by education and business leaders for raising the bar on student achievement.


Prosecutors pursue charges against town clerk

A town clerk in central Wisconsin is free on a signature bond after she was arrested for alleged misconduct.

Adams County sheriff's officials say they'll ask prosecutors to charge Deena Griffin, 53, with theft, forgery and misconduct in public office. She remains the clerk of the town of Rome, south of Wisconsin Rapids.

Sheriff Sam Wollin said town officials asked his deputies to investigate Griffin, but neither he nor town Chairman Phil McLaughlin would give details of the alleged irregularities. Wollin said his investigators are going through a lot of information, and it could be some time before charges are filed.

The matter did not come up during a town board meeting last night.

Griffin has worked for the town of Rome for about two decades. She's been the town's zoning administrator. Griffin was elected as town clerk in 2011 and won a second term in April.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Mayor hopes to ban displays of obscene T-shirts

Window-shoppers in Wisconsin Dells would no longer see obscene T-shirts, under a proposed city ordinance.

Mayor Brian Landers said he's been trying for many years to get stores in the tourist haven to voluntarily remove offensive shirts from their front windows. A new ordinance has a $500 fine for violators.

The offensive shirts could still be sold, but they'd have to be moved inside, and customers would be warned before they enter a store that mature merchandise is available.

A final vote on the measure is expected in the next few weeks.


Federal court upholds denial of permits for religious camp

A federal appeals court said a family near Rhinelander was not denied its religious freedom when local governments rejected their plans to build a religious camp.

A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld a decision from Judge William Conley of Madison. He ruled in February that the Jaros family did not have its religious freedom violated when Oneida County, its Board of Adjustment and the town of Woodboro said no to a religious camp on Squash Lake.

The family said the denials violated their rights under a 13-year-old federal law that forbids the denial of religious land use by government zoning.

Oneida County's corporation counsel did not comment on the appellate ruling, saying there's a possibility of further litigation. As of yesterday, the family had not responded to the appellate decision either.

-- Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander


March of Dimes gives Wisconsin ‘B’ rating for efforts to reduce premature births

Just over one of every 10 babies was born prematurely in Wisconsin last year, according to the March of Dimes.

The non-profit organization said the state's premature birth rate inched up .1% from 2011's rate of 10.4.

Despite the increase, the March of Dimes gave Wisconsin a grade of “B” for its efforts to reduce premature birth, which is the main reason that babies die.

Among other things, BadgerCare Plus offers temporary insurance to pregnant women who qualify. By seeing a regular doctor, they can avoid complications many low-income women face by going to the emergency room when it's time to give birth.

Wisconsin had a slight increase in uninsured women of childbearing age in 2012. In Milwaukee, Aurora Sinai and Wheaton Franciscan-Saint Joseph hospitals created safety nets to deal with larger numbers of pregnant women in their ER's.

Nationally, the March of Dimes encourages more Medicaid and other insurance coverage to women of childbearing age.  The group also encourages employers to do more to support the health of mothers and infants.


Eau Claire man pleads guilty to homicide by OWI

A plea deal would give an Eau Claire man 12 years in prison for causing a chain-reaction drunken driving crash that killed a passenger in his van.

Travis Hazleton, 36, pleaded guilty this week to five felony charges, including homicide by OWI. Both sides in the case agreed to recommend a dozen years in prison for Hazleton, but the judge can still order something different when Hazleton is sentenced on Jan. 6. His conviction allows up to 40 years behind bars.

Jesse Schreiner, 26, of Eau Claire was killed in the mishap, which occurred in July of last year. Hazleton and three others were hurt when his van started a pile-up that involved seven vehicles.


IRS warns of scammers demanding payment of back taxes

The IRS is warning Wisconsinites about an elaborate scam in which taxpayers are told they owe money and they could be arrested, deported or lose their licenses if they don't pay up now.

Wisconsin IRS spokesman Christopher Miller said at least some folks in the state have received such calls. There was no word on whether anyone was victimized.

IRS officials say the scammers sound real. They give fake names and employee badge numbers, and they might even know the last four digits of a victim's Social Security number.

Where they give themselves away is how they demand payments with prepaid debit cards and wire transfers. Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said his agency never asks taxpayers to provide either of those things, and they never ask for credit card information over the phone. Also, Werfel said the IRS never gets too heavy with phone threats like the scammers are apparently doing.

If you get such a call, you're urged to call the IRS if you really owe back taxes or the Treasury Inspector General if you don't.


Senate stalls voter ID requirement

The speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly says his house will press forward this month to pass a voter ID requirement that's constitutional. But the other house won't touch the hot-button issue right now.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the courts should decide the matter in a federal trial and two state appeals rulings that are coming up. GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he does not want the courts to decide what the state should do and he wants to press on to make sure voters in next year's elections show photo ID's at the polls.

Yesterday freshman Assembly Republicans Michael Schraa of Oshkosh and Mark Born of Washington County brought back a measure to let the poor and other disenfranchised people vote without an ID, but they'd have to sign affidavits explaining their reasons. Schraa says the bill is similar to Indiana's law which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld.

Vos wants the Assembly to pass this measure in the November floor session, along with stricter limits on early voting and the ability to recall state elected officials. A Senate committee heard testimony yesterday on a bill to ban most in-person early voting on nights and weekends before an election.


Judge says man accused of killing three still not able to stand trial

The man accused of killing three elderly family members in southwest Wisconsin was given a new confinement at a mental institution yesterday.

Visiting Judge William Foust ruled that Jaren Kuester, 31, of Waukesha was not competent to stand trial.

Kuester's attorney, Guy Taylor, said he was surprised by the finding because the defendant's mental condition has been getting better with new medication. Taylor expects the new confinement to be temporary. Foust will reevaluate Kuester's mental state Nov. 25.

Kuester is charged with five felonies after he allegedly broke into a farmhouse in Lafayette County in April; killed Dean, Gary and Chloe Thoreson with a fireplace poker; and then drove one of the victims' pickup trucks to Waukesha to see his father. He was arrested there the day after the slayings.

His parents have said they tried to get mental help for Kuester before the incidents because they feared he was delusional.

A plea deal was set in July in which Kuester would have been found not guilty by insanity and sent to a mental institution. The plea deal broke down after Kuester was despondent at a court hearing.


Milwaukee woman charged leaving scene of fatality

A $15,000 cash bond was set yesterday for a Milwaukee woman charged with killing a man with her vehicle and not stopping.

Carolyn Alcala, 47, is charged with fatal hit and run in the death of Anthony Judd, 45.

Prosecutors said Alcala had four drinks at a nearby tavern before her vehicle struck Judd last Saturday. Officials said she made a U-turn after feeling a bump in her car and then got scared and drove off after she saw a person's shoe on the roadway. Alcala went home, and police said her daughter got her to turn herself in.

She's due back in court next Friday when court officials will decide if there's enough evidence to order a trial.